10 June 2009

Stone Lord part 4

Stone Lord part 4

By Brenna Lyons

Brand stretched, kicking the furs off. His bladder ached, and he grimaced at the overpowering stench of himself. The pungent smells of death and vomit had his stomach clenching for another go at emptying.

His father and another Warrior he didn’t know slept on trail mats on the floor. He worked at what possible reason there would be for them to give him the bed, but none emerged. Brand stared at the other Warrior, wondering who he was...where he was.

{Alreed of the Sun.}

He nodded, yawned, and pushed to his feet. Brand made his way to the door and out into the morning sun. His eyes fought focusing and wanted to slide shut again. His father willing--and the Stone granting--perhaps he would sleep more when he was relieved, fed, and clean.

There were Warriors everywhere, sleeping on trail mats. Two were awake, conversing at the remains of a fire. They looked up at his appearance, their eyes widening.

Brand ignored them and followed the Stone’s directions to a nearby stream. There was nothing surprising about him sleeping in the nude. Nor was there anything shocking about him seeking out a bath or relief from his bladder this way. Women wrapped themselves in cloth, not children and men.

A sound behind him told Brand that one of the Warriors was following him. He sighed. Running as he had, caused by the Stone or not, his father had likely ordered a guard to make sure Brand didn’t bolt again.

He emptied his bladder against a fallen tree, groaning as cup after cup made the exodus. I must have slept a long time. And yet he was exhausted, most likely due to his exertions before the Stone had allowed him sleep.

His needs attended to, Brand turned toward the stream, scrubbing his fingertips over his grit-filled eyes. He knelt at the edge, reaching for the water. His throat was parched, and Brand intended to see to that need before he bathed.

The face staring back from the surface wasn’t his own, and Brand shot a startled look over his shoulder. There was no one there. The Warrior who’d followed him was four body lengths away, too far to have cast a reflection in the still pool at the edges of the stream.

“Is there a problem, Stone lord?” the Warrior asked.

Brand didn’t answer. He stared into the water, at a loss to explain the apparition. It wasn’t the face of a child, but rather that of a man. There was a scruff of new beard on the face and a man’s squared jaw.

He dipped his hand in the pool...the hand of a Warrior.

“Stone lord?” The Warrior was approaching.

“Quiet,” he growled. Brand winced at the fact that he’d just given a Warrior an order. The truth that he’d been obeyed stunned him nearly as much as his own altered appearance did.

How long did I sleep? Years! It must have been years.

{A day and two nights.}

Brand splashed the water in a pique. I have aged half a decade.

The Stone’s voice was patient, without a hint of rebuke. {The Stone is carried by a Warrior.}

His jaw clenched, Brand nodded. He forced it open, swallowing handful after handful of fresh water.

At last, he stood and strode into the pool.

“Do you require anything, Stone lord? Can I aid you, in some way?”

Brand paused, working at the request. “A soap stone.” He might use the whole of it to remove the foul humor from his body and mind.

The rushing feet were further away than he knew the Warrior to be, indicating that his fellow had also followed. In moments, he was back, striding into the water in his boots to place the soap stone in Brand’s hand.

“My thanks,” he rasped.

The Warrior bowed his head. “Your pack, Stone lord?”

Brand ran his fingertips along it. “It is my burden to carry.” What little he understood of his duties stated clearly that Brand was never to place the Stone anywhere but in Her designated cradle.

“Of course, Stone lord.” There was a moment of silence between them. “Are you well, mi’lord?”

Brand swallowed down a lump in his throat. “She speaks. I...am learning to listen, when She does.”

The Warrior bowed his head again and made for the shore. Brand fisted the soap stone, then ambled into the current to his waist and plunged beneath the icy water.

* * * *

The scream brought Tel to his feet, his hand wrapped around the hilt of his dagger. Gia came into focus slowly. His mate pulled at the furs, as if searching for something.

She turned to him, wide-eyed, dark circles beneath them. “Where is he? They said he was found.” Tears choked her words.

Tel came up with a series of curses. Surely, Brand hadn’t slipped away from them again. Why would he?

Warriors crowded into the hut, varying levels of Blutjagd searing his nerves.

Gia threw herself at against his chest, laying a single blow in her anger and hurt. “Where is my son?”

“Mother?” The voice was deep and strange, but Tel knew it was Brand.

Warriors parted, letting their son pass between their ranks. He was dripping, and the soap stone was still clenched in his hand. His feet were coated in a layer of dirt, proving he came at a run at a woman’s scream.

Gia stared at him, turning to Tel with a lost look.

He nodded. “The Stone... I cannot explain how the Stone did this, but...”

Brand advanced slowly, bringing his hand up. He glanced at the soap stone, handed it off to another Warrior, and started forward again, motioning for peace. “The Stone is always carried by a Warrior. Regeis died too soon, sooner than planned. To be a proper protector, I had to become...” He motioned up and down his body.

Gia stumbled against Tel, and Brand moved to support her. Together, they guided her to the bed he’d vacated that morning.

“I am still myself, Mother,” Brand breathed. “Gods believe me, I have not changed so much.”

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